Belfast Telegraph

DUP leader Foster says unionists should be 'alarmed' after letter from PM suggests she is 'wedded to idea of border down Irish Sea'

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster has hit out at Prime Minister Theresa May after receiving a five-page letter outlining her current position on Brexit negotiations.

After receiving the letter, which was leaked to The Times, Mrs Foster told the newspaper that it appeared that Mrs May was "wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea".

In the letter the Prime Minister wrote that the European Union wants a 'backstop to the backstop' written into any Brexit withdrawal deal.

Mrs May wrote that she would never agree to anything that separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister wrote that she would "not expect regulations to diverge between Great Britain and Northern Ireland during a backstop scenario".

Any 'backstop' would mean Northern Ireland remaining in the European Union's single market and customs union in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The plan is intended to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The UK has proposed that the whole of the UK could stay in the EU customs union for a time limited period.

However the EU and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have been adamant that any backstop could not be time limited, and must remain in place until Brexit issues are fully resolved.

A 'backstop to the backstop' would involve only Northern Ireland remaining tied to the EU in the event that an agreement could not be reached within the time limited period, effectively separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

It has been interpreted that the letter from Mrs May suggests that a customs border in the Irish Sea, as a result of the 'backstop to the backstop', will be included in the withdrawal negotiations in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The DUP has been adamant that any Brexit plan involving a border in the Irish Sea would be unacceptable.

Mrs Foster told The Times that the letter "raised alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK".

"From her letter, it appears the Prime Minister is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland in the EU single regulatory regime," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

The Prime Minister currently relies on ten DUP MPs to help her pass key legislation at Westminster through a confidence and supply agreement.

In her letter Mrs May wrote that the backstop was "an insurance policy that no-one in the UK or the EU wants or expects to use" and that it would not last indefinetly.

The Prime Minister wrote that she would "not accept there being any circumstances or conditions in which that 'backstop to the backstop', which would break up the UK customs territory, could come in to force."

"That is why it is critical that the provision for a UK-EU joint customs territory is legally binding in the Withdrawal Agreement itself, so that no ‘backstop to a backstop’ is required," Mrs May wrote.

A Downing Street spokesman told The Times that the Prime Minister would not agree to anything that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"The Prime Minister's letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the UK is divided into two customs territories," the spokesperson said.

"The Government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland."

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